As a teacher, the legislation behind No Child Left Behind (NCLB) occupies a huge part of my daily life. We have goals to meet and need to set a plan on meeting them. While I find the extreme FOCUS annoying, I cannot say that I feel this act is all bad. While it hasn’t, in a national sense, made huge sweeping changes to the education landscape, I would venture to guess that at those schools who were least successful, positive changes have been made.
Case in point (By the way, I’ll just call myself out as a b*tch. You’ve been forewarned.), when I first arrived at my elementary school placement, they were celebrating getting out of IIUSP (California program called Immediate Intervention to Underperforming Schools Program). Apparently something like 9-12% of the students had reached proficient or advanced on the state standardized testing. Being who I am, I felt this was an appalling number — one that I, myself, would not have drawn attention to, let alone celebrate. I was given the story of how everyone had worked hard to attain this number (eye roll is appropriate here). Truly, I think it’s true, when you at the bottom, there is no place to go but up. Needless to say, the school went from IIUSP (state) immediately into year 2 of NCLB. No surprise (well, to me anyway).
Jump forward about 6-7 years. This school has made growth. In the beginning the hardest part was reporting that, while growth was being made, it was too small to count. This is pretty damned frustrating. It is, in part, because you’re trying to move MANY students forward not 10 months (or one school year) but 20-30 months. With a HUGE standards load, this is a difficult task. The people who accomplish it well are amazing teachers. I’m not one of them, sorry to admit.
However, the more that people rowed the in the same direction, the higher the school’s scores grew. The better the scores, the more confidence the teachers had to help the next batch. Infuse that with some really amazing young blood (not alway young, but new to the profession and EXCITED), and you get a school that can do amazing things. The school I was at was really beginning to catch up and make it.
Unfortunately, in the rush to 100% proficient/advanced (an ignorant, unattainable goal which will undermine our educational system), the next jump was from 36% to 51%. That’s a big jump of kids. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to want that, I’m saying that the lockstep methodology is flawed. It punishes schools that make growth, but not to a certain number, and rewards schools for being stagnant, but making the number simply because they were already there. Furthermore, it has no idea what to do with schools that are 98% there — reward them for scores that really can’t go up, punish them for “no growth”, ignore their steadiness? Get mad because they can’t get that last 2%?
While NCLB may not change the gaps between races and socio-economic groups, it has done a good job shining a light on schools that needed to step up their game. Regardless of the hand dealt, it is our job, nay — obligation, to make sure we do our best to move our students and schools forward. Blame, whether it’s the students, teachers, parents, neighborhoods, lack of resources, etc. doesn’t help. NCLB forced many to teach regardless of the circumstances, that was good. It may not have changed the world, but it did improve it a bit.
Now, let’s get real, reset our goals, change the slope from steep to gradual, and give MONEY AND RESOURCES so that we can actually do what we set out to do. Eighty-five percent proficient/advanced is a good place to start. It’s not 100%, but it’s realistic. And, it will allow schools to deliver more than just test-ready kids.